The ditching of Dixie by the band The Chicks was only new to them. The word has been rapidly disappearing from the South over the last decade.
Dr. Chris Cooper of Western Carolina University co-wrote the 2017 book 'The Resilience of Southern Identity' with Dr. Gibbs Knotts. Their studies included businesses that used the word 'Dixie' or 'Southern' in their names, and the pair found the use of 'Dixie' was already in sharp decline. But that didn't mean Southerners of all races were running away from their identity. Cooper discussed his book's findings in the current context of the racial justice protests and acceleration of the removal or reconsideration of Confederate monuments and symbols with BPR's Matt Bush. You can hear the full interview above.
EXCERPTS OF INTERVIEW
Your book studied businesses that used 'Dixie' or 'Southern' in their names. What did you find? - "This is a technique that John Shelton Reed starting doing in the 1970's, and we updated it. What we found was a real decline in 'Dixie' businesses, a process known as 'de-Confederatization.' Of course that rings true (in 2020 context) as we think about monuments and statues. We saw a very large decline in the number of businesses using 'Dixie.' We interviewed people and asked why they would change their names. Being aware of the racial connotations and the history of the word was the primary driver."
But even as use of the word 'Dixie' declines, 'Southern' identity has not gone away. How? - "Just because 'Dixie' is declining, doesn't mean the idea of the South is declining. So as we see this 'de-Confederatization', we see this 're-Southernization.' There's actually an increase in the amount of businesses using the word 'Southern.' And many of these are Black-owned businesses. To be southern doesn't necessarily mean to be associated with 'Dixie.' And over the next few years, I expect that we will only see that more - a larger increase in 'Southern and a larger decrease in 'Dixie.'"
With this shift long in motion, how will the discussion of Southern identity continue in the coming years? - "One thing we need to do is make that we're putting Black understandings of the region first, or at the very least co-equal with White understandings of the region. For too often and for too long, when people have said 'Southern identity' they tend to think about White 'Southern identity.' The reality is is that the South is a very diverse region, and African Americans own the word 'Southern' just as much as White people do. When you think about 're-Southernization', and you can see this in Asheville, it's hard to throw a rock and not hit a restaurant that calls itself 'Southern' or has 'Southern'-inspired food. And those are businesses owned by African Americans, by Whites, and by people of other races."